- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2000

One of the world's most misunderstood creatures has a friend who has been promoting its importance for 18 years. Bat Conservation International (BCI) and its more than 14,000 members work to protect and restore bats and their habitats worldwide that, in part, involves teaching humans about the value of these winged allies in maintaining our ecosystem.
The group's Web site focuses on the mammal's positive features and dispels many of the rumors and superstitions surrounding these legendary creatures of the night.

Bat Conservation International

Site address: www.batcon.org

Creator:

BCI, a nonprofit group in Austin, Texas. It owns and produces the site, which was created in 1993.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site to help educate users about bats and the mission of Bat Conservation International. The site is an information clearinghouse on all things bats, from educational products and amazing photographs to BCI project summaries and bat eco-tour opportunities. There is something for everyone," says Bob Benson, public information manager of BCI.

Word from the Webwise:

A certain flying, furry mammal has gotten a bum rap thanks to Bram Stoker's 1897 novel about Count Dracula, who transformed into a vampire bat. One of the first things I learned on the BCI site is vampire bats only live in Latin America, and they do not suck blood, but lap it up like a dog. And they never appear as Transylvanian aristocracy.
Under more relevant news, certain species of bats could assist in eradicating the West Nile virus threatening the eastern United States. For example, the little brown bat is indigenous to North America and enjoys a steady diet of insects one bat can devour up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour.
I found this interesting tidbit by exploring the "All About Bats" section, which features 14 areas of reference. Three areas stand out. First, "Bat Facts/Trivia" offers such nuggets as this: The world's smallest mammal is the bumblebee bat of Thailand, which weighs less than a penny. Second, "FAQ About Bats" answers questions on everything from eating habits to life spans. Third, "Species Lists" presents an exhaustive roster of the nearly 1,000 species of bats in the world, most with pictures.
The BCI also uses lots of pages to describe its efforts to help bats, including current projects such as the North American Bat Conservation Partnership, which hopes to assist the 148 species of bats found in Mexico, the United States and Canada, or the $250,000 Great Lakes Bats and Mines Initiative, designed to protect hibernation sites of little brown and big brown bats by gating 20 mines.
Anyone looking for extra reading material should click on BATS magazine to find hundreds of articles ranging from "A Vacationer's Guide to Bats," to "Giving Flying Foxes a Second Chance," to "Can Rain Forests Survive Without Bats?"
Finally, visitors will find many ways to donate to BCI or join workshops and natural history tours on bat conservation presented all over the world.

Ease of use:

The site relies on nicely set up frames to relay the text and an incredible bunch of photos (check out the images from the "Founder's Circle Expedition to South Africa, Botswana and Zambia" found under the "Trips and Workshops" section). Visitors will need standard audio plug-ins and a Real Media viewer (version 7) for some of the features. Overall, a quick-loading, well-laid-out site, but I expected more multimedia interaction to enjoy these elusive creatures.
Don't miss: People rarely see bats, and hearing them can be even more difficult. Thanks to the BCI site, visitors can do both. Look to the "News Archive" and the release posted June 1 to find a video clip of the nighttime emergence of bats from the Bracken Cave in Texas. Next, stop by the "Echolocation Calls," which offers sound files of a silver-haired bat's feeding buzz, a Mexican free-tailed bat communication call and more feeding audio from a British noctule bat.
Family activity: It's a bit too late in the year to construct a bat house, for which the site presents complete plans (sounds like a great project in the spring), so visitors should fly over to the "Educator's Book" and perform an experiment on how bats' senses of smell and hearing help them find their young. Participants in "Where's My Baby?" act as mothers or offspring and use blindfolds and cotton balls dipped in various scents such as vinegar, perfume or vanilla to attempt to find each other.

Cybersitter synopsis:

Lots of pictures will keep youngsters petrified or fascinated for a limited amount of time. BCI exists on a steady diet of donations, so it does not give away too many things for free on the site. But if children go batty for the furry mammals, plenty of books can be ordered from the site or, better yet, for $15 parents can "adopt" a bat for their youngsters.
They can choose from seven varieties and get an 8-by-10-inch color photo, an adoption certificate, a letter from the bat, complete species information and a bumper sticker.
Family fun factor: 90 percent

Overall grade: B (for bats are beautiful)

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician. Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (joseph@twtmail.com).

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